Why would a six-year-old eat the same thing e-v-e-r-y day? She might if someone shared her breakfast.
A furrowed brow, scrunched-up nose and protruding lower lip were common signs of dissatisfaction at breakfast. These signs manifested themselves only a couple of times a week, but considering the school week of five days, this was all too frequent—and tiresome.
The excuses my six-year-old trotted out were not original:
“I’m not hungry.”
“I reeeely don’t feel like eating.”
“I won’t eat the kanna (bread border).”
“I don’t want dosa today.”
Or there was just rebellious silence, as a little finger traced imaginary patterns and ignored your entreaties (the wife) and threats (me). We do not brook wasted food, so it was all eventually consumed, but it was quite tiring sometimes.
I took this breakfast-time non-cooperation rather personally.
After all, my daughter is—like many daughters—a bit of a daddy’s girl. She has managed to infuriate her grandmother by rejecting her time- and banquet-tested fish variations by insisting, “I like only appa’s fish curry.” Which is true, and which is something my mother finds difficult to accept.
When she was 1, our poppet uncomplainingly accepted a messy looking ragi-and-raw-egg gruel that we shoved down her throat to boost her somewhat undernourished little body. After 18 months of this unwavering breakfast ritual, one day, as sentience dawned, she stared at the gruel and hurled it to the floor, never to accept it again.
Since then, she has happily eaten eggs in many forms: scrambled (by appa, of course, to a creamy consistency with milk), omelette, fried, French toast and poached. Preceded by a glass of milk and followed by a bowl of papaya, breakfast—as you can tell—was satisfactory all through Montessori.
So, the breakfast rebellion that broke out when “big-girls’ school”—first standard—started was hard to digest for her cocksure father. I suppose it had something to do with the time of departure: 7am instead of 8.50am. Breakfast—a meal of great importance to a Halarnkar—could no longer be a leisurely, dreamy affair.
The youngest Halarnkar did not take too kindly to the pressure. On a good day, especially one that began with a good night’s rest, there would be no problem. On a morning that followed unsatisfactory sleep—or if the day otherwise dawned rebelliously for Halarnkar Jr—dissatisfaction with breakfast would manifest itself in great escapes from the dining table or the deliberate dawdling I mentioned.
This problem largely fell to me because while the wife packs lunch and snacks, I do the morning tea, fresh chutney and breakfast. A clue to a solution emerged when I noticed that breakfasts went easiest when one of us ate with her, which would again be me because the wife is by no means a morning bird.
One of the things that I cooked for the six-year-old was a motte dosa, a dosa with an egg plonked atop and steamed. It was simple but nutritious and delicious. I was as hungry as her every morning, the consequence of a 6pm dinner for both of us, joined by a reluctant but increasingly rebellious mother.
Once it was established that we would be having breakfast together, the motte dosa became a hot favourite. The ritual of laying out the dosa and breaking the eggs is now participative—I swirl the dosa on to the pan, she breaks the eggs. She eats the yolks, I eat some of the white.
Before that, I make the chutney, fresh, green and fragrant. She likes to dole out a big glob on to my plate, dipping her egg and dosa in it. “It has two chillies in it, no, appa?” she says, “But I don’t find it spicy.”
I suppose the daily self-awarded badge of honour is part of the whole motte-dosa attraction. I add on one or two dosas of my own to the breakfast, which continues with two more dosas, after she has left for school and I have finished my morning run.
The motte dosa now reigns e-v-e-r-y day, including holidays. On the rare occasion that there isn’t one, her scowl returns, but since she has been raised with some discipline, whatever is offered as substitute will be eaten. There appears to be no inclination to change the motte-dosa routine for anything. I shouldn’t complain, should I?
Dosa with steamed egg
Dosa batter (ours is home-made, but you can get it in any south Indian store)
Heat a non-stick dosa pan. We do not add oil. Lay out the dosa on medium or low flame. Quickly break both eggs in the middle. Cover and cook until the eggs are done and the dosa has browned. It may take a bit of practice to time the cooking of the eggs and the browning. Remove carefully and slide on to a plate. Eat with fresh chutney. Add salt, if you wish.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes the fortnightly column Frontier Mail for Mint and is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He tweets at @samar11.